The Western, as a genre, has supposedly been on death’s door since Heaven’s Gate, though it has continued in fits and starts, and still sees its share of memorable films crop up. None rose higher than Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s farewell to the genre that made him famous, and easily one of the greatest films on his impressive resume. It explores notions of violence and mythology by deconstructing the most cherished legends of the old West. The result is dark and uncompromising, yet strangely poetic in its vision of men who can’t escape their own brutal nature. It snagged four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and opened today in 1992.
On an exponentially lighter note, there’s Real Genius, ostensibly one of a seemingly never-ending array of gross-out college comedies from the 80s that turned out to be something much, much more. It eschewed the boob-groping and bad-boy pranks of its ilk in favor of a very sweet story about smart kids still trying to figure out the world, topped by Val Kilmer at his most charming as an engineering genius who decides to stop playing by the rules midway through the game. It opened today in 1985 and remains as fresh and funny as it did back then.
Anytime a piece of animation breaks from the Disney mold, it’s usually worth a look. So it is with Heavy Metal, a decidedly adult anthology produced by Ivan Reitman and inspired by the classic sci-fi fantasy magazine that shares its name. It’s a mixed bag, as many anthology films can be, but the animation itself is a joy to behold and its unapologetic R-rated nature makes it a standout in a genre dominated by kid-friendly pastels. It opened today in 1981.